Conifers are a type of tree or shrub that are known for their seed bearing cone. They are woody plants that usually have needle-like or scale-like leaves. Most conifers are evergreen trees. There are 588 species of trees and shrubs that are considered conifers. There are seven different families of conifers, made up of the following families: the Pinaceae (Pine) family, which is the largest family, making up about 250 different species; the Auricariaceae family, a small family, which is only found in the Southern Hemisphere; the Podocarpaceae family, a larger family which is only found in the Southern Hemisphere as well; the Sciadopityaceae family, which is only one species, just found in Japan; the Cupressaceae family, which makes up about 140 species, including Redwoods; the Cephalotaxaceae family, which is a small family of about 20 species; and the Taxaceae family, which consists of about 30 species. 
Conifers vary greatly in size. The very tallest conifers are the Giant Sequoias, which can grow up to 312 feet.
Conifers have the same basic parts as other plants with some important notable differences. The leaves, for example, are different than deciduous leaves because they are usually needles instead of broad leaves. The shape of the needles helps to lessen water loss. 
The stem provides a way of transportation for the nutrients between the leaves and roots. It also lifts the leaves towards the sun to allow for photosynthesis. The stems of conifers have growth rings that usually indicate how old the plant is, because there is a light ring that shows the growth time in the plant and a darker ring that indicates a dormant time. The stem is protected by an outer covering called bark.
The roots of conifers are for gathering water and nutrients from the soil and sending it up though the stem. The roots also serve as anchors to keep the tree planted in the ground. Conifer's roots are usually quite shallow, which means that they can sometimes be uprooted by wind storms.
In addition to these basic parts, the biggest distinction in conifers is, of course, their cones. The cones are the reproduction units within the trees. They vary greatly in size as seen in the picture to the left. Each tree has both male and female cones. The male cones produce pollen and the female cones grow seeds. 
Conifers have a largely varied life span. Some species lives for decades, while others live for thousands of years. The oldest conifer trees are the Brislecone Pines. Some of these trees are up to 5,000 years old.
Conifers are gymnosperms, meaning that their seeds are not enclosed. The seeds are found on the scales of their cones. Each conifer has both male cones and female cones. The male cones contain microspores, which are pollen. All conifers are pollinated by the wind. Many conifers give off very large amounts of pollen. This pollen will then enter a female cone through an opening in the nucellus and stick to the ovule to fertilize it. The time from pollination to fertilization can be longer than one year. Once fertilized, the seedling will develop within the cone, until it is carried away by the wind. If the seedling happens to land in good soil, then it may grow into a new tree. 
Conifers are found all over the world. Since conifers are trees, they create forests. Coniferous forests are found on every continent except for Antarctica. These forests create habitats for many different kinds of plants and animals. Some animals live in conifers, some plants and fungi grow on top of conifers, and conifers provide rain cover and shade for other living things as well.  Conifers are primary producers in many ecosystems. Conifers are also useful to the environment as carbon sinks. They pull carbon out of the air for photosynthesis and can store large amounts of carbon in their trunks.
Conifers have always been very useful to mankind. From very early times, man has used many different parts of these trees to create things that are needed. Native peoples used conifer trees to make canoes and build their lodging, as well as using the bark for weaving baskets and making other useful items. There are also a few species of conifers that have edible seeds. Even today, conifers are very useful to man and a big part of the economy, as trees are logged for uses in the lumber and paper industries.  Conifers are the most widely used trees for the lumber industry because of the good wood qualities they have, as well as how fast they grow in comparison to other types of trees. Conifers are also used as Christmas trees in many cultures as well, providing even more help to those economies. 
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